Playing on wheelie toys like the best balance bikes for kids are an obvious tool to help kids with special needs gain balance skills, but there is also a bunch of other things that you can do as a parent to help.
Children with a range of special needs, including developmental delays often experience a problem with balance as they are growing up.
Problems with balance are detrimental to the development of motor skills, cause delays in learning and a range of other child developmental issues that most parents take for granted. Anything we can do to help a child get better at balance will be good for them, so it is important to persist with patience.
Firstly, it is important to know that all is not lost. You can definitely help your child develop and learn balance skills.
It is also essential to remember that each child grows and develops these important balance skills at a different rate, so it is not possible to put any kind of timetable on their personal development.
A regime of persistence, patience, consistency and repetition is important for the child.
In the end it is the persistence and consistency of the parent that will make the world of difference and allow the child to acquire the balance skills which are so important to everyday living.
One of the fundamental things to realise as a parent is exactly how disabling a lack of balance can be for anyone, let alone a small child.
Without balance, we literally cannot function in any normal kind of way.
Balance is an essential part of good functional living. Without it we are disoriented, perhaps feel regularly dizzy and we cannot do simple things like understand how far away the floor is.
Lack of balance is a really serious issue that inhibits development in almost every other area of life.
So on to ways to help a child gain balance, here is my top 10 list of strategies that can be employed to provide practical help to any child that needs to acquire good balance skills.
I recommend that these practical things be repeated as part of a game as often as possible (i.e. on a daily basis) and without ever stressing the child.
These exercises need to be a fun part of your time with them so that everyone enjoys doing them. This way they will not feel like a chore, but a fun game instead.
1. Standing Upright In A Swimming Pool
Because water creates buoyancy it is possible to do things in a swimming pool that would be impossible on dry land.
For example, a child who cannot easily stand up unaided may find that they can now do this while in a swimming pool. Find a pool, or depth of pool that is around chest-height for the child so that they are surrounded by water when standing and it will really help them stand without assistance.
Of course, you must be in the water with the child to help them if they get into trouble but often simply holding their hand will give enough confidence for them to stand and even walk.
I have seen kids who cannot walk on land become able to walk while in the water and the effect on their self-confidence is enormous.
2. Walking Up And Down Stairs Using A Handrail
If walking is a problem, then sitting and shuffling up and down the stairs will do just as well. What is important here is the physical movement itself and the climbing or descending motion that the child experiences while on the steps.
If the child can concentrate long enough to travel from step to step unaided, they will gain a great deal of confidence and their balance skills will slowly improve as their depth-perception improves.
In fact, please do go ahead and allow the child to use steps as often as possible wherever you may be. They will usually enjoy the challenge and be pleased with themselves as they notice their own skill level increasing.
3. Using A Mini-Micro Kick Scooter
The Mini-micro Scooter or it's larger sibling, the Maxi-micro Scooter was a special invention. Largely adopted by the able-bodied community it has a special place in our hearts because it is superbly adapted to the special needs child with poor balance.
The Mini-micro Scooter by Micro Kickboard has 2 wheels at the front
making it impossible to fall over. The scooter will stand up by itself and provide 100% confidence to a child who has no balance controls.
This kick scooter will provide hours of fun as well as confidence boosting energy while helping the child to acquire balance skills all by themselves.
One of the important things here is that the child can ride a scooter and therefore feel like any other child while they are having a great time.
I have found that after using the Mini-micro Scooter, then graduating to the larger Maxi-micro Scooter that my child was able to ride a regular 2 wheeled scooter completely unaided.
Something which we could not have imagined possible became a reality after a few years of riding the wonderful Mini-micro's!
Please do check out our review of the excellent Mini-Micro Scooter whch we cannot recommend enough for kids with balance problems.
4. Sitting On A SkateBoard
Skateboards offer 2 important things to the child with a balance disorder - motion and stability. Both forward and backward motion is possible and stability, particularly when sitting down on the skateboard is perfect as the board has 4 wheels and will not tip over.
This provides the child with the confidence that they can play just like any other kids
while benefitting from the motion that the board provides. In fact there is another benefit, that the board is slightly wobbly but will not tip over.
At his allows the child to experience the wobbles in the knowledge that they will not fall off the board, providing the brain with some very useful feedback.
Repetitive daily use of a skateboard in this way will help a child gain confidence and slowly acquire those elusive balance skills.
5. Walking Up And Down Ramps
Similar to the stairs technique that we have already discussed, ramps and inclined floors offer the perfect obstacle course for a child with balance problems.
Most children love running up and down ramps as they feels the sensation of ascending and descending more acutely than an adult. Also, bear in mind that even a small ramp is proportionally large when compared to the size of the child. The ramp can seem huge to them!
The incline has a different effect depending on whether they are walking up or down it, and it is great to observe a child who has slowly gained confidence derive great pleasure from negotiating the ramp.
Walking, running, shuffling on the ramp, sitting on a scooter, skateboard or any other which way is great for the child and should be encouraged as often as possible.
6. Using a Balance Bike or No-Pedal Bike
Balance bikes are a great aid to gaining confidence with and learning to balance well. For those who don't already know, a balance bike is a small toddler-sized bicycle that has no pedals.
The child has to sit on the balance bike and scoot along as if running or walking because it has no pedals.
Balance bikes are highly recommended for any child before they learn how to ride a regular bike, but because special needs kids can take much longer to develop skills that other kids take for granted they are an especially useful toy.
In fact, my own child is now 2 years old and still loves balance bikes but because there are none that are his size - I have removed the pedals from a regular bike and he gets the same fun out of it.
We have reviewed some of the best balance bikes for kids right here!
7. Rolling Down A Hill Or Ramp
Most of us who were not raised in cities remember rolling down hills on a hot summers day in the countryside. See how much fun that was if we still have memories of doing it?!
Well, your child can also benefit and similar to our tip #9 below, the spinning motion can be extremely beneficial to the brain. As long as the child does not roll down the incline too fast, a nice and gentle motion should be enough to stimulate the brain and help it to make new connections that aid balance.
We recommend that the child lies on their side and rolls down perpendicular to the hill. I.e. rolls down on their side rather than forwards or backwards. The amount of fun will create lasting memories as well as being very good for them.
As with any of these exercises, moderation is key. Not too much, not too fast and regular practice is what will make the difference.
So for example, rolling down a hill 5 times every Saturday would be a great routine throughout the summer.
8. Standing On One Leg Assisted
The action of standing on one leg immediately causes the brain to think in a different way as the comfort of having 2 feet on the ground is removed.
Make this exercise safer and easier to handle by providing the child with something to hold onto like a walking stick, your hand or a chair while they are doing this.
As they gain confidence and their balance slowly improves you can remove the aid so that they can stand on one leg completely unassisted. As with everything regarding special needs kids, regular short sessions is what makes the difference.
So parents, get ready to practice your own patience and tenacity
by helping the child to repeat this every day for 5 minutes. It is the repetition and consistency that will ultimately make the difference for your child
Slowly but surely you will see that they are acquiring balance skills and confidence in other areas as their balance improves over time.
9. Spinning Around On An Office Chair
Again, I have personal experience of this particular strategy and done every day it can have a beneficial effect. Make sure that you spin the chair slowly. The point is not to alarm or scare the child, but just have them spin arround very gently on the chair.
We chose to spin ten rotations to the left and then ten to the right once per day. This does not take long and is easy to make part of your everyday routine.
This article from The Slate explains a little about the science behind this technique to improve motor skills 'Spinning Babies In Office Chairs'.
10. Holding The Child Upside Down
This one is clearly a safety hazard if not done right and we do recommend that the child is small and fairly lightweight if you do attempt it. Many parents have fun holding their child upside down for short periods (seconds at a time rather than minutes!).
Being upside-down will disorient the brain
to such an extent that it can provide huge amounts of sensory stimulation. This in itself will cause the brain to find new pathways and connections to understand what is going on.
In layman's terms, it's the new pathways that will make the difference and help the child to acquire new skills
It is important to not that this exercise should only be done for very short periods at a time so that the child does not become overwhelmed by disorientation.
I hope that you enjoyed this article and can also find the time to look through our reviews of the best kids ride-on toys. Please go ahead and leave a comment if you have any other balance tips for parents with a special needs child!